‘So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.’
As we look back over the last term there are so many things to be thankful for. We started to use the Tubakuta campus, welcomed the first batch of five, then eight, now ten students; completed and opened the student dormitory; were kept safe whilst travelling through to the end of the rainy season; saw 28 people baptised at the beach; moved into our hut in November; and celebrated at an official opening ceremony and Graduation Day on 14 December (pictured above).
So yes, we are settling into our new round home. By the time we moved in, both mains electricity (which is proving more reliable than the supply in town), and running water from the borehole (we just need to run the solar pump for an hour a day to fill the water tank) were made available. This is a testimony that God really can do more than we ask or imagine.
The Algeo family are our lovely next door neighbours, and we have been discovering rural living with them – herding stray cows out of our compound, what to do with the gifts of fresh milk from the cattle man, the amazing beauty of the night sky and the extensive variety of local bugs and reptiles contrasting with the limited stock of the village shop.
The students seem to have settled well and worked hard. One has had to travel to a family funeral in Nigeria, the others have been very consistent. Two joined part way through the term so have some catching up to do and the end of term exams confirmed the broad spread of comprehension and writing ability. About half the students completed school when they were younger and are really developing in their knowledge and understanding. The others need help with literacy in order to fully benefit from the rest of the course. As we are now living just a few minutes away from the campus, we hope to spend a bit more time with them individually to encourage, support and disciple them.
On 14 December we welcomed about 130 people to Tubakuta to join the graduation celebrations of 17 former students from the various 2017-2019 classes. It was great to see them all together again, and to hear some of their testimonies. Amongst the guests we had Doug and Ann Johnson, and James Sherwood, long-term supporters of Pastor Steven and of Servants of the Word (SOW). There were a number of church leaders and WEC mission friends, plus the village chief and a selection of his village elders. The village chief was very warm in his welcome, and one of the regional leaders also spoke, emphasising that the community was glad to have us. They said repeatedly that they would not attack us or burn our houses down – very reassuring to have that clear!
As you might imagine, Christmas in Tubakuta was a fairly low-key affair. The village church is part of a group that runs a number of orphanages and they run a children’s camp for five days ending on Christmas Day. We celebrated in the afternoon by inviting some neighbours to come for a meal. We didn’t know if anyone would be brave enough to join us. Steven, Helen, Esther, Samuel and Hannah Musa-Kormayea drove out to Tubakuta, Helen rustled up food for about 50 on an open fire, and we sat and chatted with our 11 male guests for a couple of hours. There was an interesting discussion on their understanding of the meaning of Christmas, an exchange of warm and friendly greetings, as well as a genuine sense of our being welcome in the community.
The rest of our Christmas break was slightly marred by Mark suffering with a bacterial infection that had him sleeping fitfully, sweating feverishly and not eating for about 12 days. He is much improved now and we are so very grateful for God’s provision – the advice and care of some delightful Nigerian doctors at our former church, available antibiotics, and for the fact that although we had to drive over an hour to get there, once at a clinic we saw a doctor, had a set of blood tests taken and analysed, and talked through the results with the same doctor - all within an hour.
The new term started on 6 January with a farming week, and classes resume on 13 January. Mands has set the students the task of giving a 15-minute presentation to explain the overall story of the Bible. We hope this exercise will help consolidate their growing understanding of the sovereign grace of God in rescuing and redeeming his people, and that they would have many opportunities to retell this wonderful story in their own languages in The Gambia and beyond.
Finally, many thanks to those of you who have contributed to the student support fund. It has been an encouraging start, but of course there is still room for others to join in and help train future church leaders and bible teachers.
Many thanks for your continued support and prayers, for Christmas cards and messages, and for the M&S Christmas pudding which arrived on time and intact!
With love from Mark and Mands x
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